Back in 1971, George Harrison was behind one of the best gestures of goodwill that a rock star is ever likely to give, and with it, he set the tone for benefit gigs across the musical world. It was a huge moment for Harrison personally and globally the gig was in aid of Bangladesh’s victims of famine and war. The concert would feature an all-star line up of Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, Badfinger, and, of course, Ravi Shankar.

Harrison enlisted the help of his friends to pave the way for large sacel charity concerts i the future but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Harrison had originally intended to reunite with his former bandmates for the night and provide concert-goers with the first live performance from The Beatles in America since 1966, but it wasn’t to be.

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It did nearly happen though for one particular Beatle. John Lennon had agreed to appear at the gig, even consenting to Harrison’s stipulation that Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono could not perform with him. But just a few days before the event Lennon left New York City in a cloud of contempt as he and Ono fell out over Lennon’s agreement with his former bandmate.

Next on the list was Paul McCartney. Macca almost outright refused to be a part of the benefit as he was still emotionally embroiled in the band’s breaking up and the nasty legal battles that went alongside it. He would later tell Rolling Stone about the opportunity to reunite The Beatles “George came up and asked if I wanted to play Bangladesh and I thought, blimey, what’s the point? We’re just broken up and we’re joining up again? It just seemed a bit crazy”. At least there was Ringo to the rescue. The Beatles drummer was more than happy to perform at the charity gig and was ready and raring to go in time for curtain up.

One more notable name on a line-up which included Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton was the inclusion of Indian musician Ravi Shankar. The musician was famed for his Sitar work and had inspired Harrison on more than one occasion to pick up the instrument. He was also inspirational when it came to ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’, when asked by a reporter as to why Harrison should put on a gig for the aid of Bangladesh he replied: “Because I was asked by a friend if I would help, you know, that’s all”.

Shankar would go on to open the proceedings. The sitarist demonstrating the traditional instrument with a gleeful exuberance. Following Shankar leaving the stage it was time for the supergroup to arrive. They did so with Eric Clapton on guitar, Ringo Starr on drums, Leon Russell on keys and members of Badfinger on guitar and vocals, all led by George Harrison.

The band played through a few of Harrison’s hits including a couple of Beatles songs for good measure to rapturous applause. Harrison would then nonchalantly introduce his next guest. “I’d like to bring on a friend of us all, Mr Bob Dylan”.

Listening back to Bob Dylan and George Harrison perform ‘Yesterday’ from 1970

The event came at a very odd time for Dylan. He was firmly in his reclusive stage and this was his first live show since the iconic performance at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969. But Bob did not disappoint. The singer provided fans with his classic songs ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘Just Like A Woman’, and ‘Mr. Tambourine’ all backed by Harrison’s all-star supergroup.

The concert would go on to raise nearly a quarter of a million dollars which was given to UNICEF to administer as they saw fit. Though by 1985 the Los Angeles Times reported that the final figure from books, CDs etc. amounted to nearly $12 million dollars being sent to help with the Bangladeshi people. Sadly, much of the money was tied up in an Internal Revenue Service escrow account for over a decade as the organisers had not applied for tax-free status on the money.

The concert and it’s recording is still to this day amassing money for the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF. The triple album release that immediately followed the event in the seventies hit No.1 in the UK and No.2 in the US and received the Grammy award for Album of the Year.

After the gig, Bob and George made their way back to Dylan’s house in Woodstock and contemplated their work. To us, it remains one of George Harrison’s crowning achievements, to be a rock star is all well a good, but to be a rock star that recognises how futile being a rock star without compassion can be, is surely the Holy Grail?

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Source: This Day In Music

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